>If you read any amount of endurance sport blogs (well, almost any exercise blog, for that matter), you’ll find the term “pain cave” easily and often. A cursory search of Google reveals how prevalent this phrase is in the lexicon of sport, as there were almost 7 million pages returned. Narrow the search to “Triathlon Pain Cave”, and you get 130,000 returns. You can read about how to “make the most of that little black place that emerges in your psyche,” purchase an episode of Spinnervals called The Pain Cave, or even “Learn to Love the Pain Cave”.
You might ask, as I did, what exactly is a “Pain Cave”? Frankly, that depends upon whom you ask or what you read. Often, a pain cave is described as a small room or workout area where athletes go in the off season to sweat like a manual laborer in the middle of July. Other times, the pain cave is described as a mental condition – a time and place where you are at your personal limit and must decide how you’ll proceed.
Either way, the pain cave is ubiquitous – especially in endurance sports. Ask any marathoner. Any Ironman. Any couch potato working to lose five pounds.
So what is a Pain Cave to Tri Madness? To me, the pain cave is a mental cave. It’s the self doubt and questioning that seems to creep into my mind in the midst of a workout. It’s that nagging feeling that I must slow down in order to prevent a bonk. When I think of pain caves, I picture a little angelic Tri Madness sitting on one shoulder and a little demonic Tri Madness sitting on the other (for some reason, I always think of Animal House at the same time). Nevertheless, my pain cave is the battle between the two little me’s.
All too often, demon-boy wins the battle. Each time I make the decision to stop and walk in a race, that’s a battle lost. When I skip a workout, my pain cave won. It’s when I take too long a rest on my intervals. Basically, it’s each and every time I doubt my athletic ability, my training, my resolve. On the other hand, when I continue to push myself – seeking further achievement or accomplishments – I have won the day. I found my way out of my pain cave.
Your pain cave may be physical. It may be climbing hills until you can’t move your legs any longer or running until it feels like your lungs are going to burst.
At the end of the day, I believe a pain cave is highly personal. It’s a battle of you versus you. It’s your will to persevere and work harder against your will to slow down, quit, walk. So many of the people I read on the web seem to have achieved dominance over their pain cave. For me, it’s a constant struggle. A fight each and every day.
Here’s to hoping that you rule your own personal Pain Cave.